What is sex?

First, from a petition filed in NYC (Berkley v. Farley) that challenges the surgical sex-change requirement for birth certificate revisions:

7. In those forty years, the medical, scientific, legal, and psychological understandings of trans gender persons have progressed substantially. The mainstream view of these communities no longer equates sex with chromosomes or genitalia alone. Rather, it is now accepted that a person’s sex is determined by a host of factors, including
chromosomes, (4)
gonads (ovaries or testes), (3)
hormonal secretions, (5)
internal reproductive organs, (1)
external genitalia, (2)
secondary sexual characteristics, (6) and
the brain sex or one’s self-identified sex. (7)

Bold, numbers, and line spacing have been added to show consistency with the 2003 decision of The Court of Appeals in Maryland In re: Heilig (see page 8).

There is a recognized medical viewpoint that gender is not determined by any single criterion, but that the following seven factors may be relevant:

(1) Internal morphologic sex (seminal vesicles/prostate or vagina/uterus/fallopian tubes);
(2) External morphologic sex (genitalia);
(3) Gonadal sex (testes or ovaries);
(4) Chromosomal sex (presence or absence of Y chromosome);
(5) Hormonal sex (predominance of androgens or estrogens);
(6) Phenotypic sex (secondary sex characteristics, e.g. facial hair, breasts, body type); and
(7) Personal sexual identity.

Bold added to the terms medical and gender. Interestingly, the Berkley petition seeks to prove sex, while Heilig cites gender.

Of the seven factors, all but ONE refer to objectively demonstrable physical criteria. Yet, by promoting “gender identity” legislation, trans activists are arguing that the single subjective factor on the list (7)– the brain sex or one’s self-identified sex/personal sexual identity– should override the other six:

“Gender identity” means a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

I repeat, “regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

As a female and a feminist, I am opposed to the replacement of “sex” with any kind of subjectively asserted identity, appearance, expression, and/or behavior. “Sex” is not an identity or a choice. Sex is a physical reality.

No single factor can or should be dispositive of an individual’s sex. Visual evidence of secondary sex characteristics (6) is generally accepted as proof of an individual’s “sex” despite the fact that these physical markers can be constructed and/or modified through medical interventions. In other words, appearances can be deceiving. Additionally, because factors (2), (5), and (6)–genitals, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics–are more malleable than the other three physical indicators, one or more of them often serve as the only legally necessary proof that a transsexual has had a sex “change.”

By contrast, chromosomes (4) are immutable; and factors (1)  and (3)–internal morphologic sex (seminal vesicles/prostate or vagina/uterus/fallopian tubes) and gonadal sex (testes or ovaries)–can be removed from an individual’s body but medical technology is not able to construct functional facsimiles of them because they cannot be created by any force but “nature.” Either you are born with them, or you are not.  

The biological purpose of these “sex” organs is human reproduction.

From monthly menstruation to fetal gestation, female bodies bear the primary burden of human reproductive processes. This reality is not under human control. Recognizing this, therefore, humans should use the physical manifestations of female reproductive processes as the lens through which we establish the meaning and substance of “sex.” Female bodies and perspectives should be the default, not males’.

Cis privilege does not exist. Male privilege does.

Femininity is not a fun game women play because we were born to enjoy dress-up.

The gender binary is a means of organizing social relations and distributing power. Power is gendered. Males and masculinity are systematically privileged over females and femininity. Feminine subordination manifests in wide-ranging social practices from intellectual dismissals of women’s ideas to the pervasive sexualization of female bodies– a phenomenon that begins at shockingly young ages. Being coercively assigned the feminine gender at birth, as all female-born people are, is not a privilege.

The notion of “cis privilege,” however, which is often used as an insult and/or to discredit the speaker, falsely posits a feminine gender assignment as socially equivalent to a masculine gender assignment. The near universal institutional oppression of females– the process by which male authority is ensured– clearly demonstrates that lumping all non-trans individuals into the same group is a gross oversimplification of how the gender binary operates. Non-trans females and non-trans males are not similarly situated persons in regard to gender.

So, for example, when someone says DIE CIS SCUM, they are charging  non-trans females with (at least) 50% of the responsibility for gender-normativity-as-oppression. It arrogantly assumes that all non-trans females are comfortable with, and benefit from, the current gender arrangement. This is simply not true. The concept of “cis privilege” simultaneously denies the experiences of millions of females who ideologically reject femininity as female destiny, and completely erases the reality of butch females as if they never existed.

It is victim-blaming and woman hating to suggest that those in the subordinate position of this powerful gender binary are responsible for withholding self-identified trans* people’s liberation from them. Females are not responsible for this situation. Non-trans feminists have worked very hard to oppose compulsory female femininity by deconstructing and conceptually disentangling sex from gender.

If circumstances were otherwise, I’d find the idea of “cis privilege” amusing when finally viewed from this feminist perspective: males benefit from their coercive gender assignment, females do not.  Anyone who wants to discuss “gender” and oppression should evince a basic understanding how and why the gender binary operates in the first place.

Sex matters.

1. Sex and gender are different.

Sex and gender are not spelled alike or pronounced alike. They are two different words with two very different meanings:

According to definitions proposed by the Institute of Medicine (23), “sex” is a biological construct dictated by the presence of sex chromosomes, and in animals and humans, the presence of functional reproductive organs.  “Gender” is a cultural construct and refers to behaviors which might be directed by specific stimuli (visual, olfactory, etc) or by psychosocial expectations that result from assigned or perceived sex.

(bold and color added) In pursuit of scientific excellence – sex matters, by Virginia M. Miller. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol, published ahead of print February 10, 2012, doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00073.2012.

2. Sex does not cause gender.

The presence of female reproductive organs in a particular body does not mean that a person necessarily likes pink, painting her nails, talking about her feelings, and nurturing small children. Sex…

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